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Saturday, March 6, 2010

Free Agency: Rams Leave Hints With Early Moves

Since the end of the 2009 Season, the Saint Louis Rams General Manager Billy Devaney has been busy looking for players who can help his team improve.  None of the moves are significant enough to tell us what Saint Louis might do with the first pick in the 2010 draft:
1/6 - OC Drew Miller signed.
1/6 - OG Mark Lewis signed.
1/6 - DE Sean Conover signed.
1/8 - CB Marcus Brown signed.
1/13 - LB Dominic Douglas signed.
1/13 - TE Eric Butler signed.
1/20 - DT Chris Bradwell signed.
1/28 - WR Nick Moore signed.
2/17 - TE Derek Fine acquired from waivers.

However, two moves on the first day of free agency could be the best insight thus far regarding the Rams intentions with the #1 pick in the 2010 Draft:  the Rams cut Kyle Boller (QB, 7 years) and signed AJ Feeley (QB, 10 years).  These two moves speak volumes about the quarterback situation in Saint Louis as well as confirm the initial review of the Saint Louis situation heading into the 2010 offseason.  The Rams need a new quarterback.

The situation:
- The incumbant, Marc Bulger, finished 2009 on injured reserve.  Bulger's situation was recently summarized as:
"Bulger signed a six-year, $65 million contract extension in 2007, and next season, he's due $8.5 million, which is a large amount for a quarterback who hasn't performed well or stayed healthy the past three seasons. He has passer ratings of 70.3, 71.4 and 70.7, respectively, in the last three seasons and missed 11 games because of injuries."
- Sam Wyche, NFL.com columnist
It appears that Bulger is not an option. 

- Kyle Boller was the #2 QB in 2009 appearing in 7 games and starting 4 for the Rams.  He obviously did not show enough to be either the backup or the plan for the future.  Boller had signed a one year contract in April 2009.  Since he has now been cut Boller is not an option.

- Perhaps the Rams are considering giving the reins over to 2009 6th round selection QB Keith Null.  Null started four games including the season finale for Saint Louis.  His performance was not exceptional but he does have a full offseason and preseason to improve.  Null is one option.

- In December (as insurance when Marc Bulger went on the Injured Reserve List), the Rams signed Mike Reilly off the Green Bay Packers practice squad.  Reilly did not play in 2009 and is an undrafted 2nd year player.  Only the Rams know what they have with this player.  Since he is still on the roster it appears that Reilly is an option.

After these four players there are only two other options -- free agency and the 2010 draft.  The Rams moved quickly on the first day of free agency.

But is free agency the answer?  AJ Freeley has appeared in five games in the past six years while bouncing through four different rosters (San Diego, Miami, Philadelphia, and spent 2009 on the Carolina roster).  He did not take a snap for Carolina last year.  Is this 10 year veteran the answer?  He is certainly part of the answer or he would not have been signed -- but most likely only a short term answer.  Freeley is an option.

That brings us to the 2010 Draft and the Rams #1 pick.  It appears that this is where they will look to find their long term answer to compliment AJ Freeley as the short term answer.  The top two QBs in the 2010 draft appear to be Sam Bradford (Oklahoma) and Jimmy Clausen (Notre Dame).  Both Bradford and Clausen were injured in 2009.  To compensate for recovery time a team would need two experienced QBs to run the show while the rookie completes rehabilitation.  Saint Louis has set themselves up for this situation with Feeley and Null.  By getting the pieces in place right away the Rams have given themselves the maximum time to evaluate both 2010 draft candidates.  However, I think it is more likely that the Rams have already decided that one or both of the 2010 quarterback draft candidates are player(s) they want to target.  Said another way, by the Rams knowing what they would pursue with their draft strategy a clear set of needs dictated their early free agent moves (instead of making the moves in hope of finding out if one of the quarterbacks was healthy enough to be the player they need).

And so comes the pressure of the pick:  The Rams selected 2nd in 2009.  Matthew Stafford was off the board but Mark Sanchez was not.  The Rams picked an offensive tackle and Sanchez took the Jets to the playoffs.  In 2008, the Rams also selected second and picked a defensive end.  The third pick that year was Matt Ryan who took the Atlanta Falcons to the playoffs.  Can the Rams afford to pass a third time on a young signal caller?

I fully expect the Rams will be selecting a quarterback with their #1 pick in the 2010 draft.

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